Tag Archives: BCPSS

Year 12, Day 0

This week teachers headed into school to prepare for next week and students’ return. This will be my twelfth year!

My teaching this year will include more computer science than ever before:

  • AP Computer Science Principles (full year)
  • AP Computer Science A (full year)
  • Foundations of Computer Science  (spring)
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing (fall)
  • Precalculus independent study (fall, three students, three separate periods)

I’ll also be working with our new engineering teacher and our librarian+new-computer-science-teacher to help them with their lessons, and collaborating with two geometry teachers around standards-based-grading.

Extracurricular activities and competitions:

  • Coding Club (app development, cybersecurity, & more)
  • Women’s Transportation Seminar’s “Transportation You!” Mentoring Program
  • TRAC bridge builder competition
  • CyberPatriot competition
  • STEM Competition
  • possible (in my mind, I want to do each of these this year): Cyber Movie Mondays, Saturday AP & PLTW study groups, Girls Who Code club
  • probably several others…

Ongoing projects that will occupy some of my time this year include:

  • Comp Hydro (teaching hydrology and flooding through computational simulations & modeling, in partnership with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study)
  • MyDesign (engineering design process app and learning management system, in partnership with NSF & the University of Maryland)
  • Internet of Things project to measure air quality and other environmental factors in schools (in partnership with Cool Green Schools, Johns Hopkins University, and Morgan State University)
  • Continuing work toward my Master’s Degree in Computer Science (taking “Artificial Intelligence ” course this semester)
  • Baltimore City Engineering Alliance, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) we created to provide opportunities to Baltimore City students to further their engineering education, and for which I am treasurer

School starts for students on Tuesday, after Labor Day for the first time in my twelve years here teaching in Baltimore. Wish us luck!

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Contract Results

The contract was ratified. Boo.

Unfortunately, it seems there was very low turnout. Only about 1000 teachers voted today, compared to the nearly 3000 who voted in November 2010, and out of a total union membership of approximately 6000.

Perhaps this was due to the sudden and rushed way this contract and the vote were sprung upon us only a week ago. Perhaps to a feeling of disenfranchisement of teachers who were not consulted in the writing of the contract which was negotiated behind closed doors. Or perhaps due to the hours of voting, 7:30am-5:30pm, at only six different sites, which is pretty much synchronous with the school day for many hardworking teachers.

Here’s what I wrote over 3 years ago at my last contract vote:

Voting today was supposed to go from 7am to 6pm. I got to my voting location this morning at 7:05 but went to the wrong side of the building/campus. At 7:15 I parked my car in the right place, got out, greeted a number of teachers from my school who were standing in line, and found out voting hadn’t yet begun; they were still setting up inside. This was outrageous, since they had had weeks to prepare and they knew that teachers had to get to their jobs and teach a full work day. No leave or early-release day had been given, and 7:30-6 are pretty much my usual working hours!

I heard similar stories of polls opening late this morning. I made it to a voting station today at about 5:00pm. I was the only voting teacher there (along with about 5-6 poll staff). Everything went smoothly for me this time. I just wish more teachers had voted: it might have made the difference in being able to re-negotiate a better contract instead of being stuck with this very flawed one.

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Resources for Tomorrow’s Contract Vote

This is a compendium of some resources concerning the new contract which is up for a vote tomorrow. I encourage Baltimore teachers to read/listen/watch through them as you weigh how you will vote. I encourage you to vote “NO”, but whatever your decision, get out and vote tomorrow Thursday February 6th at any one of these locations.

Factual/Neutral

Pro

Con

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My letter to the BTU President

Good evening Ms. English,

The main reason I write to you today is to encourage you to postpone this Thursday’s contract vote. With such short notice (only 6 days from contract announcement until vote), there has not been enough time for teachers to read, meet, discuss the contract.

In your email from earlier this evening you point out that we are working without a contract – if so, why were we not given the tentative agreement several months before the old one expired, so there was adequate time to digest it, make an informed vote, and even go back to the negotiations table if a no vote occurred, without having to threaten that we would lose our jobs or benefits that we have fought for?

One additional concern I have is with what you cite as a positive, that the new contract is very similar to the current contract. Many teachers raised concerns then that so much of the contract was still to be written, in that committees would be formed to establish AU criteria, the evaluation system was pending action by the state legislature, etc. We gave you our trust when we voted to approve that contract in November 2010, trusting that those committees would act in good faith to the promises that had been made about AUs even though the language was not nailed down in the contract, trusting that the evaluation system and its implementation would be as fair as possible within the constraints set by the state. This has not been true. Two categories of AUs are still “in development”, one was released 2/3 of the way into the contract and has been made almost impossible to apply for. While the fact that 50% of our evaluation is based on student growth is state-mandated, your statement “The evaluation tool is a result of state and federal mandates” conflates that with the details of how Baltimore City has chosen to connect that evaluation to pay, and how exactly student growth is measured (e.g. school performance index). These details of how Baltimore City can apply the student growth measure are very much in the purview of this contract, and I don’t feel comfortable voting for another contract where so much about AUs and evaluations are not adequately addressed in the contract in writing.

Sincerely,
Nicholas Yates
Math and Engineering Teacher
Patterson High School #405

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BTU Contract 2014

The News: Baltimore (City) Teachers Union (BTU) has reached a tentative agreement with the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) on a new contract. This news was announced last Thursday 1/30/14, with information sessions scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a vote scheduled for this Thursday, 2/6/14.

Our old “revolutionary” new three-year contract had run out last June, but an extension was signed so that contract negotiations could continue into this school year. According to the BTU reps sent out to our school yesterday, however, that extension expired on January 31, so we are now completely without a contract and are considered “at-will” employees.

Here is why I plan to vote “NO” this Thursday on the new contract:

Tactics

  • Rushing to a vote. By releasing the new contract and rushing to a vote only a week after it is announced, it seems like they are trying to rush us into voting on this contract without having adequate time to read and discuss its implications.
  • Bribery. Just like last time, a stipend is offered as soon as we approve/ratify this contract. While I appreciate and can use the extra money, this stipend seems an underhanded way to convince us to vote for something we might otherwise find distasteful.
  • Closed negotiations. Teachers had no information on, nor direct input to, the negotiation session.
  • Scare tactics. When I raised a question in shock at yesterday’s meeting, that we were working without a contract, the BTU reps responded in a way that seemed meant to scare and intimidate us into voting for the contract, by highlighting that we are now (as of 2/1) at-will employees without a contract, and could be fired at any time for any reason. When another teacher asked what would happen if we voted down this contract, they came back to this. If this is true, why on earth did they not do their job and bring this to a vote long before our old contract ran out? Scare tactics like this make me less inclined to vote for the contract.

Substance: What’s in the Contract

  • COLA. We get a 1% raise each of the next three years. As a teacher pointed out yesterday, our average 1.5% raise each of the last three years has been less than the cost of living increases each year, as calculated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is likely to continue to be the case, therefore we are accepting a de-facto pay cut.
  • Mailbox blockade. “Individuals and organizations other than the Union shall not be permitted to use the school system’s interdepartmental mail and email facilities, or the right of distribution of materials to teachers’ mailboxes.” As worded, this seems to imply that I, as an individual other than the union, cannot send another teacher an email or place something in another teacher’s mailbox. Even though this level of silliness is not likely to be enforced, this does seem chilling to the democratic process. For example, a petition to change union elections to be held electronically or at more sites, that was passed around a few years ago, could be blocked from being distributed to teachers.

Substance: What’s Not in the Contract

My biggest concerns with the old new contract passed in 2010 are actually not with language in the contract itself, but with how it’s been implemented. I find it extremely probable that the new new contract will be implemented in the same way, since it contains no language addressing these concerns.

  • Achievement Units (AUs).
    • Coursework – this seems to have gone well.
    • Contributions to Student Learning – After being promised we would finally get paid for all the extra work we do like running a student club, the details of how this was rolled out were completely counter to what we were sold on. The criteria for this type of AU was not released until two years into the term of our three-year contract. I put in for some of these AUs last school year, and was summarily denied because I had missed a deadline (after BCPSS was two years late on their deadline). I know of one teacher who did succeed in getting this type of AU – he only got 1 AU, after putting in hundreds of hours of work, and said that the amount of time spent on documenting and proving student learning was absurd. Note that 12 AUs are required to before any increase in salary.
    • Contributions to Colleagues, and Contributions to School and District – Three and a half years into a three year contract that promised we would have access to this type of AU, these two types are still “In Development”. See link here and screenshots below. To me, this is ridiculous. The last contract promised things it never delivered on, which is a strong reason not to trust the new contract.
AUs web page

AUs web page

Zoomed in on the lower left of that page - AUs still in development

Zoomed in on the lower left of the page – AUs still in developmen

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Evaluation Structure. We are being held accountable in our professional evaluations for factors beyond our control. This year 50% of our evaluation is based on whole-school numbers. (More details in my post here.) Next year and going forward, it will be 15% (the School Performance Index). Any amount, to me, is unacceptable, because this creates a disincentive for great teachers to teach at poor-performing schools. This is exactly the opposite of what should be done.
  • Evaluation Implementation. This is not anywhere in writing in the contract, but is clearly a consequence. Since there is not an unlimited amount of money, the fact that some teachers are racking up AUs and seeing large increases in salary, while a few are becoming model or lead teachers with the accompanying huge jump, the school system has to find a way to pay other teachers less. How that has played out, it seems to me in talking with other teachers, is a lowering of evaluation scores. Teachers who for many years had been evaluated as proficient were now being told they were only satisfactory, and thus received fewer AUs, which are tied to pay. This year, with the introduction of a fourth category, “developing”, in between satisfactory (renamed “effective”) and unsatisfactory (“ineffective”), with even fewer AUs, there seems to be pressure from North Ave to rate everyone even lower and thus decrease the number of teachers who advance a step on the pay scale.

Further Information

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Cold

[Back today, on a two-hour-delay, after two snow days off, for a start to a new semester and new courses. This semester, by the way, I am teaching Principles of Engineering and AP Calculus.]

Cold classrooms & burst water pipes have been the norm the last few weeks at my school.

I am one of the lucky ones whose classroom heater usually works (noisily, but at least it provides heat). Several colleagues have bought multiple space heaters (paid for out of their own pockets) just to keep their classrooms tolerable. Other teachers have pretty much moved shop for the season into different classrooms, ones that do have heat. I’ve heard of three water pipes freezing & bursting over the past three weeks – one that flooded an entire floor of the building, one that flooded the auditorium, and one today in the aerospace engineering room next to mine (which we’re currently using for equipment storage – I couldn’t imagine teaching in that room with temperatures as low as they’ve been!). While working on the biggest pipe break, water was turned off to 3/4 of the building and restrooms were out of order, for a period of several days.

Students from my school, including several whom I teach, have written letters to the school superintendent (CEO) and local newspaper.

I know we’re not alone. There is a similar situation at other city schools, including Epiphany in Baltimore’s. “This is an education equity issue,” he writes. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Snow Day!

What it’s like on the morning of most snow days:

Check the weather the night before. Think we’ll probably have a snow day since Maryland schools tend to close for anything above a dusting of snow. Check the school closings and see a few counties and/or private schools have called it already.

Have a hard time getting to sleep, as visions of snowstorms dance through my head.

Wake up too early (2am today, sometimes as late as 3 or 4, but invariably before my 4:30-5:30 normal routine). Check for updates on weather and closings, but don’t find any because it is too early for them to make the call.

Find something to do to kill time — watch a TV show, read news, read through my twitter feed for interesting articles. In addition, have three tabs open that I’m refreshing every few minutes: Foot’s Forecast Central Maryland facebook page, my Maryland twitter list, and WBAL’s school closings list.

Slowly see the closings trickle in from the other counties (i.e. school districts). Start to think it’s very likely we’ll be closed since all the other counties are closed, but Baltimore City Public Schools waits until the last possible second to make the call, and has thrown me for a loop before. The tension mounts.

Start to wonder if I should make coffee, shower, & otherwise get ready for work, since Baltimore City still hasn’t called it. Delay past the time I normally would get out of bed since there’s still a chance for them to call it off.

After almost resigning myself to going in, refresh one last time and see BCPSS is closed! Usually called at approximately 5:29am, and the last of all the surrounding counties.

Celebrate that I get a snow day. Hooray!

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